9.1 General context
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The participation of young people in decision-making processes on issues that directly or indirectly affect their lives is based on a number of legal and political foundations in Austria (Beteiligung als Recht), such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Austrian Federal Constitution on the Rights of Children (Österreichische Bundesverfassung über die Rechte der Kinder), the EU Youth Strategy, the Austrian Youth Strategy (Österreichische Jugendstrategie) and laws on school co-determination, etc.
Furthermore, Austria sees the participation of children and young people in political decisions as a cross-cutting issue (Beteiligungsfelder). Since the immediate living environment is usually the first starting point, there are many opportunities for young people to participate in youth politics beyond family, school and leisure time at the local, regional, national, European and global level (see chapter 5.4).
The federal-state working group on youth dialogue and youth participation (nationale Arbeitsgruppe Jugenddialog und Jugendbeteiligung), which merged in 2020, is dedicated to promoting youth dialogue and youth participation in Austria.
In the context of youth participation and global issues, sustainable development and environmental protection are among the key topics addressed by public actors and the ones that young people and youth organisations in Austria are most concerned with.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations form the reference framework for Austrian development policy. Since 2016, all federal ministries have been entrusted with the coherent implementation of the "Agenda 2030". The areas of responsibility of the departments form cross-cutting issues that usually cannot be assigned to just one development goal. The Family and Youth Section of the Federal Chancellery (Sektion VI – Familie und Jugend) is responsible for 8 of the 17 SDGs and understands the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a global orientation framework for the ongoing optimisation of Austrian family and youth policy (Sustainable Development Goals für Jugendthemen). In this context, the identification of children and young people in Austria with the 2030 Agenda and their political participation is central to achieving the development goals.
To promote youth cooperation and the political participation of young people in Austria, education is seen as an essential prerequisite for fulfilling the entire 2030 Agenda (Agenda 2030 im Bildungsbereich). The Austrian education system thus plays a key role in enabling young people to work for a sustainable, critical and responsible world society. In this context, educational concepts (Bildungskonzepte Agenda 2030) such as 'Education for Sustainable Development' ("Bildung für Nachhaltige Entwicklung"), 'Global Citizenship education' ("Globales Lernen/Global Citizenship Education"), and other teaching principles and educational concerns (see chapter 9.4) pedagogically prepare sustainability in all its dimensions. The learning process aims to develop knowledge, skills and abilities, values and attitudes so that young people can play an active role in tackling local and global social, economic and environmental challenges. In this sense, education sharpens the awareness of the complexity of global challenges and promotes the ability for critical reflection as well as for systemic and future-oriented thinking and acting.
The 'Environmental Education Forum' ("Forum Umweltbildung") contributes to the promotion of education for sustainable development and environmental awareness among young people through its extensive educational work. In cooperation with interdisciplinary teams and through cooperation with experts from educational organizations, administration, NGOS, extracurricular youth education institutions and the media, innovative and qualitative projects (Projekte) on environmental issues or the global sustainability goals are created.
Environmental protection and global justice are central concerns of young people in Austria. This is particularly evident in the large-scale bottom-up youth movement "Fridays for Future" (Fridays for Future Austria), which unites young people from all over the world across national borders to advocate for sustainable policies.
Young people in Austria use voluntary engagement as a form of political participation. According to the 2nd Austrian Volunteer Report (2. Freiwilligenbericht, 2015) 22% of Austrian youth volunteer in the field of environmental, nature and animal protection. Youth participation in climate and environmental protection is carried out by numerous environmental organisations and youth movements that work to achieve climate protection goals, protect biodiversity in flora and fauna, preserve nature and habitats and much more. The possibilities for active youth participation range from projects and joint events to holiday camps and internships, etc. (see chapter 9.5). Volunteering therefore has an important educational role to play.
The independent Austrian 'youth environment platform' ("Jugend Umweltplattform JUMP") offers young adults a variety of opportunities for participation, capacity building and personal orientation in the field of environment and sustainability as well as training and education on a long, medium and short-term basis of support for projects. In addition, young people can also take part in a 'voluntary environmental year’ ("Freiwilliges Umweltjahr") (see chapter 9.5).
The fact that young people are particularly environmentally conscious is shown not only in their great commitment to various projects and associations to promote a sustainable way of life and environmental protection, but also in current studies that deal with the attitude of Austrian youth to global issues.
The Europe-wide youth survey carried out in 2021 (Europaweite Befragung: Länderbericht Österreich 2021) shows that the climate crisis (55%), followed by environmental destruction (44%), are seen as the greatest global challenges among 15-35-year-olds in Austria. More than 70% of those questioned blame the prevailing consumer habits and the unequal distribution of resources in our economic system. 83% of the study participants see standing up for climate protection as a matter of political importance when giving their votes. However, 73% state that they feel that politicians have let them down in this regard and are setting the wrong priorities.
Also, the SOS Children’s Villages Youth Study 2020 (SOS-Kinderdorf Jugendstudie 2020) by the Institute for Youth Culture Research (Institut für Jugendkulturforschung) found that more than 70% of 11-18 year olds surveyed are most concerned about climate change and pollution when thinking about their future, and 88% of them believe that only immediate action can remedy the situation. These are central issues that concern young people, regardless of whether they live in the city or in the country and what type of school or education they come from.